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Edmonton's 2013 Draft - First Impressions

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Derek Leung

I think the draft is a good time to remember that we're all fans here and that being a fan can be difficult. As fans, we have no direct influence on decision-making, and yet we're emotionally invested in the decisions that the team makes. Those of us that follow the draft closely sometimes find this time particularly difficult. Decisions come fast and furious, and those decisions usually don't line up with what I would have figured was optimal. As such, this post isn't really an attempt to judge whether or not the Oilers drafted exactly as I would have liked, but rather, an attempt to judge whether or not they acted reasonably.

The First Round

The first round is, by far, the best chance the Oilers had to add a star player, and thus by far the most important part of the draft. Whatever else happened, it was important to get this right. So when the Oilers drafted Darnell Nurse seventh overall, I was content.

He wasn't at the top of my list at that time (that would have been Valeri Nichushkin), but my earlier analysis of Nurse suggested that players with his statistical profile drafted in about that spot tend to become top-four defensemen in the NHL, and tend to play their first full season within two years of being drafted. Because of the fact that he was behind a couple of other defensemen on his team for power play time, there's also some potential for offensive upside. That's an attractive package (especially when the package is 6'5''), and I had Nurse among a group of nine players that I thought were well clear of the rest in the draft.

That the Oilers chose Nurse over Nichushkin (and Rasmus Ristolainen) is surely reasonable, and he may turn out to be the best player of those three. Craig MacTavish believes he will, but he did a good job explaining that there's a measure of uncertainty just after the draft:

Our overriding drafting objective is to draft the player that's going to have the greatest impact on our team over time, and based on that philosophy I thought that Darnell was the guy that best fit that bill. You don't know whether that's going to be the case, but you take as much information as you possibly can and try to spit that answer out. I think we got it right, but time will tell.

He also apparently believes in fate:

There were just signs for me all over the place, just little things. I got on the plane a couple of months ago, I open the paper, I'm coming back from Europe, and I see Darnell Nurse's sister on the cover of the sports page, and I'm going, 'That's telling me something.'

He was probably about 90% joking, but when it gets tough to decide between two players... yeah... I don't want to think about that. Anyroad, what the Oilers didn't do was reach outside of the first cluster of nine with the seventh overall pick or trade down into the teens to add later picks. They avoided making a big mistake, and that's worth celebrating!

The Second Round

This is the second most important section of the draft, and the Oilers came in with two picks. Craig MacTavish talked a lot about trading the picks for help at the NHL level, but that didn't happen. Instead, he traded the 37th pick for the 57th, 88th and 96th picks, and then flipped the 57th pick for the 83rd, 94th and 113th picks. Both of these deals struck me as being poor, both because there was a player I really liked available when the trades were made (Artturi Lehkonen at 37 and William Carrier at 57) and because they seemed like poor value based on Eric Tulsky's previous work on what it has historically cost teams to move up in the draft using later draft picks.

There's not much else to be said about that first point. I had Lehkonen ranked 13th overall, and exactly 30 NHL teams disagreed with me on that. He's no doubt hoping that I'm right and the folks who get paid to have an opinion are wrong, but it's pretty tough to blame the Oilers for being one of thirty teams who passed on a prospect I liked.

The second point, however, is interesting because of what MacTavish and Stu MacGregor had to say after the draft. MacTavish was asked, "In the trading down of picks, is it I guess a case where at that point it's almost a crapshoot so three crapshoots is better than one?" It's hilarious that this is a viable question, but (thanks be to God) MacTavish did not answer in the affirmative:

No, it's a little more exact than that. The guys that we employ to make some of those decisions, we actually have a rating of all the picks, and it's a simple mathematical calculation: over time, what gives you your best opportunity, what increases your odds of hitting some core players. And so we base those decisions largely on that template.

It's a reasonable explanation. Their formula obviously differs from St. Louis and Los Angeles, which is a wee bit frightening, but it's at least a sensible answer. It's also an answer that MacTavish clearly believes. Stu MacGregor offered a similar explanation, but I'm not convinced that he isn't thinking more like the crapshoot guy:

When you get that opportunity to have more darts, it seems to be, if you look at the numbers and everything else, it adds up that it's of value to make the trade we did.

You can tell which guy believes in the math and which guy is just kind of being blown along by the new wind. Anyroad, it'll be interesting to try to figure out why the Oilers believe what they do about finding core players with these later picks over an early second round pick.

As for the one guy they actually picked, I'll take a more detailed look at Marc-Olivier Roy this afternoon, but at first blush he seems like a reasonable bet at 56th overall. One thing that gives me confidence in the pick is MacTavish's description of the selection process (emphasis mine):

Marc-Olivier I don't know all that well. I've never seen him play, but he really fit the criteria of a skill guy that has a chance to be an impact player.

How awesome is that? They chose a guy out of the QMJHL in the second round and the team's General Manager has never seen him play. He is relying exclusively on his amateur scouts and possibly some kind of analytical formula. I know that this might be coming across as sarcastic, but I really, truly, honest-to-God think that this is both good and hilarious.

The Later Rounds

The Oilers did were pretty clearly trying to find skilled players who had been overlooked by other teams for one reason or another a lot in this draft. Bogdan Yakimov (83rd OV) and Anton Slepyshev (88th OV) are both Russians playing in Russia; Kyle Platzer (96th OV) is a small scorer with just 28 points in 86 games with London because he was buried on the fourth line; and Aidan Muir (113th OV) was 108th among NA skaters on the final Central Scouting list, but he wasn't ranked inside the top 200 by most of the major scouting agencies and played AAA Midget in 2012-13.

Jackson Houck (94th OV), Evan Campbell (128th OV), Ben Betker (158th OV), and Gregory Chase (188th OV) strike me as being more conventional late-round picks with more conventional problems (WHL but not enough offense, BCHL over-ager, WHL defensive defender, WHL not enough offense), but they all seem to have potential as actual hockey players. I know sets the bar awfully low, but as we take the time to learn more about each individual (I'll profile a couple of players each day this week), it'll be easier to make some judgments.

The Bottom Line

The Oilers did fine in the first round, may have screwed up in a principled way in the second with the two trades, and seem to have done some decent work later on. My draft would have looked awfully different (I can't resist: Valeri Nichushkin at 7, Artturi Lehkonen at 37, William Carrier at 57, Juuso Ikonen at 128, Andreas Johnson at 158, and Jaedon Descheneau at 188), but that doesn't mean the Oilers did poorly. It's pretty evident that they spent the day looking for players who might provide real value down the line, and I'll be cheering hard for all ten guys they picked to get there.